Spring Fling: Strings and Shadows by Jamie Adams

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Spring Fling, Writing | 1 comment

Spring Fling: Strings and Shadows by Jamie Adams

Rain is pounding down and a Bach sonata thunders through my headphones as I dash from the taxi up the marble steps and into the pristine blue and gold lobby. The doorman stares down his nose at me and I smooth my hair, attempting to look marginally less bedraggled as I set my violin and bag on the ground and shake the water off my coat.

“Miss Marsh?” A tall, balding man in a crisp collar that appears to be choking the life out of him rushes to me. “You’re very, very late. The others have gone on to the concert hall already.”

“I know. Plane troubles. Did they leave any instructions?” I try to look more sophisticated than I feel. It’s not as though I’ve never been late to a rehearsal before. I’ve just never been late to a rehearsal of this magnitude before.

“You’re to head to the hall at once. We will see that your bags are delivered to your room.” He’s already rushing away, waving a bellhop over as he charges toward to front desk. “And enjoy your stay here at Avaline Ward Hotel.”

I grab my violin and step back out into the rain, stomach growling. I’ve been on the go since four this morning and I’m starting to wonder if part of being a professional musician is developing the ability to exist on air and water alone.

But I’m seventeen. I’m still a growing girl, and I’m pretty sure growing people are supposed to eat frequently. That’s what my stomach says, anyways.

Apparently there isn’t a single taxi in the universe right now, so I run the mile to the hall in the pouring rain. My flats, already wet, become so waterlogged there are puddles inside them, and strands of my hair stick to my forehead and cheeks. The buildings around me rise in brick and mortar grace, unmarred by the water pouring over them, as I struggle past. When I at last reach the corner of Howard and Vine, the Charleston Performing Arts Center blossoms out of the ground across the road, a glass and steel monolith that somehow still blends in to the age and grace around it. Everything here is dignified and refined except for me. My stomach rumbles again and my grip on my violin is wet and slippery.

Suddenly the rain stops. An umbrella has appeared over my head, the long fingers of an adept musician wrapped around the handle.

“Can I help you find something?”

I turn and lock eyes with a boy almost exactly my height. He has a shock of blond hair sticking straight up and a mouth that lists just slightly to the left.

“I’m just headed to the Arts Center. Rehearsal,” I say, swinging my violin.

His left-tilted mouth stretches into a smile.

“A musician. That’s pretty sweet. I’m actually headed over there too, let me walk you over.”

I don’t know if this is a South Carolina thing, or a gentleman thing, or just a decent human being, but it feels so good to be out of the rain I don’t even question it.

“Are you a musician too?” I ask as we wait for the light to change.

He laughs. “No, not at all. I clean the building. Slightly less glamorous.”

“I clean too.” I hoist my violin into my arms, tired of trying to keep my grip tight. “I work for a

maid company. So, you don’t have to tell me about not glamorous.”

“Hey, I clean public toilets and all that entails. Including the men’s toilets. No way can you beat that.”

“I once had a family whose toddler was potty training. Needless to say there were a few messes along the way – and if it was my day to come, they left it for me.”

He pantomimes gagging. “What is wrong with people?”

The light finally changes and, as if on cue, my stomach lets out a mighty roar.

“How are you going to rehearse on a stomach that empty?” he asks.

“I don’t have a choice. I’m already way late to orientation.”

“You’re here for the new youth orchestra, aren’t you?”

“Third chair violin, Killian Marsh,” I say as we walk across the street.

“I’m Jonas. You know the first two hours are going to be a sleep-inducing orientation to the building and the history of the symphony, right?”

His drawl slides through my ear like a pianissimo refrain, smooth and familiar somehow.

“I’m still supposed to be there. It’s bad enough my flight was delayed, I can’t delay even more.”

Jonas wiggles his eyebrows at me as we reach the other side of the street and stand at the base of the steps to the Arts Center. “Well, if you’re already late, why not just make it a longer delay?”

“I’m going to end up missing all the stuff I need to know then,” I protest, but my stomach rumbles again, and the idea that there might be food in my near future now is messing with my head. The rain is still pouring down, but under Jonas’s umbrella I’m staying somewhat dry. I makes the thought of going into a windowless room to continue starving and listen to someone drone on about things that don’t even have to do with music even less appealing.

“You won’t. Stick with me and I’ll tell you everything you need to know and more.”

I hesitate. I don’t know this kid. He could be a rapist, or a mugger, or one of those creepy people that harvest organs and sell them on the black market, like on TV.

But it seems highly unlikely that an attacker would lounge around in the pouring rain on the off

chance that a young musician might happen along.

“I’ll make sure you get fed,” he wheedles.

“Fine, but food has to come before the tour.”

“That I can do.”

Instead of running up the steps to the main entrance, Jonas leads me around the side of the building and down a short flight of stairs to a recessed basement entrance. When we walk in the door, the air is cold and still damp.

Jonas flicks on the lights. We’re in some kind of locker room, with dying florescent lights and chipped blue metal lockers. I take a step to the side so Jonas can shut the door again and paper crinkles against my shoulder. The torn sign, clinging to the wall by bits of scotch tape, informs me in all caps that if I clock in more than seven minutes late, I don’t need to bother coming back.

Maybe coming down here was not one of my better decisions.

“Want a coat?” Jonas asks, pulling one of the lockers open.

I shiver, goose bumps lining my still-wet arms. “Are you stealing it?”

He gives me a weird look. “From myself. Want it?”

I hold my hand out and he gives me a blue windbreaker with the word Sidewinders sewn into it.

“PeeWee baseball,” he says, shrugging into a gray sweatshirt with the same team logo on

it. “Follow me, third chair violin Killian Marsh,” he says.

I tag along behind him as he winds through the darkened underbelly of the Center. The hallways are narrow and shadowy and the chills I get now have nothing to do with the rain dried on my skin. But Jonas is a good guide. He turns on a flashlight to make the way clearer for us, and the shadows dance away from us like high notes in a folk song.

“On the other side of that wall are the practice rooms.” His hand brushes the cinderblocks as we walk. “They sound proof all the walls except these because the janitors don’t count, so we can always hear back here. We know who’s on and off their game, and who’s in trouble or what’s going on. You ever have questions or hear rumors, you know who to ask.”

Jonas is a fast walker, I can tell by the way his steps hitch up like he’s trying to cut himself short for me. He doesn’t seem to pay much attention to where we’re walking, but the way his fingers brush over the blocks it’s as though they’re whispering secrets into his skin.

“This room is where last year’s first chair violinist got obsessed with the first movement of a Mozart piece and stayed for a week,” he says. “And this is the one the second cello and the timpani player used to hide their torrid love affair.”

“Torrid?” I ask, breathing icy cement-flavored air.

Jonas turns, his eyes flashing at me through the shadows beyond his flashlight beam. “Terribly.”

The floor under us is cracked gray paint over rough cement. They really cut corners in the places no one sees.

When we reach the end of the corridor, Jonas opens a door in the wall. I wouldn’t have even noticed it if I wasn’t beside him, a thin narrow black crack the only sign of its existence. Through the door is a small apartment, with a bed against the far wall, a couch along the close one, and a table in the center. A tiny kitchenette fills the left corner.

“This is the break room,” Jonas says. “Don’t even ask why there’s a bed, because no one knows. It gets a lot of use though. The overnight staff take turns napping on shift, makes the rest of us want to destroy something but we never report it because they make breakfast for us in the morning.”

He walks over to the fridge and pulls the door open. “Just sit yourself down and I’ll have a feast for you in a minute or two.”

“How do I know you’re even a good cook? I thought you’d show me Charleston’s finest restaurant or something,” I say as I circle the table and pull out a worn leather-seated dining chair.

Jonas claps a hand to his heart and looks devastated. “How do you know I’m not Charleston’s finest?”

We both turn red.

“Finest cook,” he says hastily.

“I didn’t say you weren’t, I just have doubts. Everyone doubts things, you can’t blame me for that,” I say.

The walls in here are a weird shade of mauve that I suspect is leftover from some more attractive part of the building. The furniture is clearly a mix of thrift store and someone’s attic and it smells vaguely like scrambled eggs and sweat.

Jonas emerges from the fridge with a bottle of juice, a block of cheese, and a handful of potatoes. “Just give me a few minutes. And hold your judgment to the end.”

I feel weird sitting still, so I join him in the kitchenette and rummage around until I find some paper plates and two bent forks. Two styrofoam cups complete our table setting, and there’s nothing else to do, so I lean on the counter as he washes and slices the potatoes and throws them in a pan with onions and a little oil. The heat licks up from the pan and brushes over my arms.

While he cooks, Jonas tells me all about the building. The Arts Center was built right over the old one when it burned down. It was a tragic accident, a servant girl who fell asleep with an oil lamp, and for decades the lot stood empty save for ashes and charred bricks. And then Charleston finally got sick of staring at the destruction and showed an uncharacteristic willingness to let go of the past and try again.

“For a new building, this place has an insane amount of nooks and crannies. Lots of passages that don’t really go anywhere and doors that don’t access anything. It’s weird. They say the guy who built it was insane.”

I’m starting to wonder if the youth orchestra is really everything I think it’ll be. I’m supposed to be able to get private tutoring so I can finish high school as long as I spend the year playing for them. Free room and board at the hotel, and a professional orchestra credit on my resume before I’m eighteen – getting in was like everything I ever wanted in the world coming together at once. But in light of the sketchy maze of chipped-paint hallways and screaming signs, and now a crazed architect, my mom’s strict pre-flight lecture about things that are too good to be true and only ever doing things in groups and calling if I had the slightest doubt seem more justified.

“Well, now that I’ve seen all this I assume the practice rooms and the Center itself will be gorgeous. It’s probably good to start by seeing the underbelly.”

Jonas sets the pan on the table and slices us each several pieces of cheese. “Underbelly. Smells more like an armpit in here.”

I’m not sure that Jonas is Charleston’s finest cook, but I’ve been so hungry for so many hours that everything tastes like a five-star restaurant. When I’ve finally stopped eating – incidentally consuming approximately 200% more than Jonas – he sighs.

“I guess I should get you up to your orientation. So you can take a post-lunch nap.”

“That’s not being very fair,” I complain, but I push my chair in, toss the dishes into the garbage, and follow him into the dim hallway.

We don’t go back the way we came, and by now I don’t have the faintest idea where we are anymore.

“Lots of people say this place is full of ghosts. That the people who died in the old building are still hanging around. Some are mad about the new building, some just want to be part of the music again. When it’s quiet like this, I think they’re probably right,” Jonas says, leading me up a back staircase.

“Maybe a few ghosts are good luck,” I say as Jonas opens a door and we emerge into a side room painted the exact mauve of the break room. Nailed it. “I wouldn’t complain if it made me a better violinist.”

“I should have carried that for you.” Jonas waves to my violin.

I cradle it up to my chest. “It wouldn’t have mattered if you did offer, I wouldn’t have let you. Nobody but me touches my violin.”

The left-tilted mouth curves up. “Diva.”

“All the way.”

We stop outside a carved wood door. Beyond it I can hear someone droning on in a tone three steps below middle C, a perfect nap-inducing tone. Hopefully the only seats aren’t at the front.

“Well. This is your stop, I guess.” Jonas half-shrugs. “Hope you’re all dried out and filled up.”

“I’m great. It was really nice meeting you. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Jonas saunters off without looking back. I take a deep breath, tighten my grip on my violin, and step into the rehearsal room. I avoid all the stares, thankful the building manager up front is too busy discussing the draperies and sound boxes in the concert hall to stop and acknowledge my arrival, and sink into a seat in the back row.

Mr. Dodge, the program coordinator I’ve only met via my Skype interview, comes jogging up the steps in a crouch from where he sat in the second row.

“Where have you been, Miss Marsh? The hotel said you’d be here an hour and a half ago.”

“Sorry.” The lie slips from me like I’m an old expert. “I got lost for a while. I couldn’t find a taxi and the storm is so bad I didn’t think I’d make it. Thankfully one of the janitors found me on his way in and got me here.”

Mr. Dodge frowns. “There’s no janitorial staff during rehearsal hours. It’s not allowed, for security. Who was it?”

Great. Jonas gives me free lunch, shows me the building, rescues me from the rain, and I’m going to get him fired.

“A younger guy. I forgot his name.”

Mr. Dodge stares hard at the back of the seat in front of me, then shakes his head and shrugs. “Well. There are no young men on the janitorial staff. I don’t know who you spoke to but they don’t work here. Find me after orientation and I’ll get you caught up on what you missed.”

He crouch-runs back to his seat. The guy in the front drones on about how they designed the concert hall so all seats have an optimal listening experience.

If Jonas doesn’t work here, who is he?

The question nags at me discordantly through the rest of the orientation lecture, so when the old guy finally finishes talking to me and Mr. Dodge approaches, I hatch a swift plan.

“I just need to run to the restroom real fast. I’ll be right back,” I say, shouldering past and using my violin as a shield. It’s a move that’s worked everywhere from the bus to the mall and it doesn’t fail me now.

“Hurry back. We need to get you caught up,” Mr. Dodge calls weakly. He looks like he could use what my mom calls “a picker upper” – aka, a cup of chamomile tea laced heavily with honey and vanilla.

It takes me almost ten minutes to find the main office, but when I do the little old lady behind the desks acts as though I’m a long lost best friend.

“Hi, dear, what can I do for you? If you’re lost, the lecture hall is down the hall to your left, down the hall and to the right by the water fountain, then down the half stairs and to the left again.”

“Oh no. I was just wondering if you have a staff list somewhere that I could see.”

The little old lady frowns, wrinkles sagging around her chin. “I’m sorry, hon, we don’t give out that kind of information. Someone you’re looking for?”

“Yeah. I’m trying to find Jonas.”

Her face changes as though a chilling slide of bass notes has slipped in around us.

“Oh. Jonas. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

“What? Why? We met this afternoon, he was very nice and friendly. I just want to find him and say thanks.”

Not entirely true, not entirely false. But the little old lady now appears to be cowering behind her  desk, and somehow even the dove-painted walls seem to be trying to fade away.

“I am sorry, but we can’t give out information on anyone associated with the Center.”

I pull the corners of my mouth down mournfully and heft my violin.

“Of course. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be assuming anything. I just got in a few hours ago after a  terrible flight, and had to get here alone in this crazy storm and I’m with the Youth Orchestra so  I don’t know anyone yet and I guess I was just tired and looking for some help. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”

I turn and take three slow steps towards the door, waiting for her to melt. But the air stays icy.

I would give a lot to play a really violent sonata right now. This whole thing is weird and it’s making me insane.

“Wait,” the old lady says finally.

I turn, hardly able to hide my triumphant grin. Good old violin. Helps me every time. But the old lady’s face is pinched tightly and her whisper thrums into my heart beat as she leans over the desk, glancing over her shoulder despite the fact that there’s only a wall there.

“I just need to tell you, it’s really better not to ask too many questions. The Youth Orchestra is brand new and a wonderful opportunity. No one wants anything unpleasant to disturb it.” She leans so far over her desk I’m afraid she’ll fall, taking another glance over her shoulder and lowering her voice even more.

“Trust me. If Jonas wants to find you, he will.”

She sits down and clamps her lips shut, suddenly attacking her keyboard in a fury of typing. I  back up slowly and walk out the door, chills raising the fine hairs on my arms. The spot where  my violin always rests against my chin throbs anxiously and I catch myself flinching at shadows.

She can’t do that to me. What could possibly be that big of a deal?

I turn around and march back into the office, ready to argue the point.

But the little old lady is gone.


Jamie writes books about smart kids, whimsical adventures, and once upon a times. When she’s not writing, she takes eats lots of pizza, takes epic naps, and wages war against spiders. The TBR is always too tall, there’s never enough coffee, and there is a Parks and Rec gif for every moment.

About Jessi S

Jessi is a lit junkie - you can either find her reading fantasy books, writing about reading. or reading about writing. When she's not doing that, she's the Publishing Coordinator at Pen and Muse Press, an editorial intern at Month9Books, and writing a novel about the '50s. You can find her on her blog posting cat pictures (listentomuses.wordpress.com) and twitter (link: https://twitter.com/listentomuses).

One Comment

  1. Ooh! I love it! I want to read more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *